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When I look at the two sentences below how can I tell straight away whether they are a reflexive action or a reciprocal action as they both have 'se' in the sentence:

Elles se maquillent

Elles se parlent

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

You need to look at the meanings of the verbs.

Elles se maquillent : reflexive because we assume each girl is making herself up.
Elles se parlent : reciprocal because we assume there are two or more of them and they're talking to each other/one another.

Obviously context is important, but to change from reciprocal to reflexive (or vice versa) we'd usually have something to give that context.
Elles se maquillent l'une l'autre. -> reciprocal (could be complicated simultaneously but we can imagine they do it in turns)
Elles se parlent toujours toutes seules ! « Toutes seules » makes the difference : each one is talking to herself -> reflexive.

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